For once, all adjectives fall short.
On one of the greatest nights the Champions League has ever seen, an old, familiar giant resoundingly told the world that all talk about its death was premature. Barcelona came in against Paris Saint-Germain at the cauldron that is the Camp Nou on Wednesday nursing a 0-4 deficit. When the whistle went 95 minutes later, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez and the rest whooped and celebrated. The score on the night was 6-1 and the aggregate 6-5.
The first team ever to overturn a 0-4 deficit. If anyone could do it, it was Barcelona. But scores seldom say it all. They were on the verge of breaking the door open after Luis Suarez, a Layvin Kurzawa own goal and a Lionel Messi penalty put them 3-0 up after 50 minutes. And then...
The prelude: Edinson Cavani
62’: The ball comes in from the top. Barcelona’s defence is late, Ivan Rakitic is even later on it. But not Layvin Kurzawa. He knocks it down. The figure of Edinzon Cavani looms large. He swoops in. Barcelona’s players haven’t marked him. He takes it on the volley. Smashes it past the goalkeeper. He wheels away to his right. After conceding three goals, Paris Saint-Germain are living the dream again. The vital away goal. 3-1 to Barcelona, 3-5 on aggregate to PSG who have the away goal.
The Catalan giants are stunned. The enormity of the task is suddenly clear. Three goals in the next 30 minutes. Cavani almost scores again two minutes later, but Ter Stegen stops it. Lionel Messi delivers a free-kick in the 73rd minute but it is cleared. The minutes are ticking by. The Camp Nou, which was heaving a few minutes back, is quiet, silent, tense. Things are becoming flatter. The clock ticks over the 80-minute mark. Football writers are already sharpening their pens. The end of Barcelona.
The saviour: Neymar
88’: The Brazilian wonder-kid is brought down in front of the box. The free-kick is called. Neymar steps up from 30 yards. What follows is both beautiful and brutal. Free-kicks can seldom be better placed. It swerves deliciously and bends. The PSG goalkeeper, Kevin Trapp, remains standing. He remains standing even when the ball swerves past him to crash into the top left-hand corner. A thing of utter beauty and rightfully coming from Neymar. Another goal for Barcelona. But is it too late? They trail 4-5 with PSG having the away goal.
The believer: Neymar
90’: The Blaugrana have never stopped believing. Or surging forward. Camp Nou is hoping against hope. Luis Suarez is in the box but he receives a touch from Marquinhos and falls. A little too easily, perhaps? But the referees don’t think so. The penalty is given.
Only one man can take it. No, not Lionel Messi. The man who has led Barcelona from the trenches today. Neymar, it will be. His face is a picture of intense concentration. The nerves are flying inside. He moves to the left and begins a steady jog. He pauses for a milisecond and lifts his right boot. The goalkeeper dives to his left. Neymar places it expertly to his right. The empty goal and the ball goes in. There is hardly any celebration. He picks up the ball, points to the supporters and runs back. The believer. It is on. It is on.
The winner: Sergi Roberto
95’: Desperation. Five minutes of extra time are running out. Barcelona are close, they can see the victory line but so can PSG and their victory is guaranteed, thanks to that Cavani stunner. Barcelona put more balls into the box, but can’t break through. Lionel Messi takes a free-kick, their goalkeeper runs up as well, but to no avail. Then another free-kick. Well outside the box. The clock is past the 94-minute mark. It is all or nothing now.
Neymar takes the free-kick. Puts in a lilting, slow long-ball over the PSG defence. Roberto, who had the worst night of his life in Paris two weeks ago, gets a chance at redemption. He times his run perfectly. Gets on to the ball at just the right time. Desperately lunges his right foot out. The ball hits his outstretched boot. It careens over the keeper and in one beautiful arc, enters the goal.
The Camp Nou shakes. Barcelona shake. There is bedlam everywhere. Craziness. Chaos. Lionel Messi celebrates with the fans. PSG don’t know what hit them. The greatest ever comeback in Champions League history. Three goals scored in seven minutes. How can they do it? How does anyone do it? But they can. Barcelona can.